Is President George Bush’s Unpopularity Keeping Him Thin?

President Bush might finally be getting some good news. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that people can “catch” obesity from their friends. With approval ratings hovering around 30-percent, and some members of an increasingly-cranky Congress calling for his impeachment, it seem as though The Decider has very few friends left. It might be lonely at the top, but if the Journal study is correct, the President can at least take comfort in the fact that he should have no trouble maintaining his trim figure.

The study followed a social network of more than 12,000 people from 1971 through 2003. The investigators kept track of each subject’s friendships, spouses and neighbors. Investigators also recorded each person’s body weight at various intervals. The findings were surprising. If a friend became obese, a subject’s chances of following suit increased by 57-percent. Friends actually had a greater influence on a person’s body weight than their own family, while neighbor’s rates of obesity had no influence at all. Researchers found that the same held true for weight loss.

Friendships were not the only factor that affected obesity rates, as there was a genetic component. Other research has shown that most people have genetically determined weight ranges. But environmental factors play a role in determining whether a person is at the top, bottom or middle of that range. Friendships, it seems, are one of those environmental factors. Why friendships influence weight is not really understood. It could be that people choose friends who are more like themselves. Or, when a friend gains weight, the pressure to remain thin is not as high as it once was.

Whatever the reason, the last two presidential administrations do seem to support this study’s findings. President Bush’s predecessor, who struggled with his weight during his 8-year administration, left office wildly popular. And at least one well-publicized “Friend of Bill” was a bit Rubenesque. On the other hand, the much-vilified President Bush seems to have little trouble staying fit. If Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez should suddenly slim down, then it will be clear that this study is on to something.

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